Biomass energy solutions are still not highly developed enough to be a commercially viable power source, but this renewable energy sector took a large step forward this week with the announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy that its Joint BioEnergy Institute had created a method for extracting xylan that is both more efficient and productive than previous methods.
Xylan is the second-most common biological product on the planet after cellulose, and can be found in the cell walls of many plants. However, due to the structure of cell walls, this material can be difficult to extract with traditional techniques. However, the research team was able to identify a gene within a species of rice and suppress its development in new growth generations, making it easier to extract the xylan.
"Xylan is of particular interest for the improvement of feedstocks for the generation of cellulosic biofuels, a currently expensive and inefficient process," Ronald Pamela, one of the authors associated with the research study, said in a press release. "Xylan inhibits access of the enzymes that break down cellulose into sugars and is an additional substrate for cross-linking to lignin, all of which contributes to the recalcitrance of plant cell walls."
Biomass has significant potential as an energy source because it does not involve the extraction of fossil fuels, but the process of generating power from it is somewhat similar.
This blog has covered the topic in the past, and as reported previously that many experts believe that biomass technology has not yet reached a stage where it can produce large amounts of energy. Yet the importance of this development is summed up by Henrik Scheller, who directed the initiative.
"This engineering approach has the potential to yield future bioenergy crop plants that are more easily deconstructed and fermented into biofuels," Scheller told the source.
If biomass power sources are at the center of U.S. energy policies of the future, there is little doubt that this technological innovation will play an important role.